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Man accused of setting fire to Galveston church

GALVESTON, Texas – Galveston's Westminster Presbyterian Church on Avenue U was founded over a century ago and the building dates back to the 1920's. This week, someone tried to wipe out all that history for reasons that aren't clear.

The church interior was gutted by a fire that was deliberately set near the front door. Galveston police said Jeremy Gwinn, 19, confessed to setting the fire.

Gwinn might have gotten away if not for the quick thinking of a Galveston officer who was working an extra job at the San Luis Hotel early Wednesday morning, just behind the church. He became suspicious when he saw Gwinn walking through the parking lot around 1 a.m.

"He we was walking outdoors in cold weather, kind of drizzling, no shirt on. (It was) definitely out of ordinary for the property there," B. Patton of the Galveston Police Department said.

Gwinn appeared to be intoxicated, and he had church pamphlets stuffed in his pants, according to authorities. Police said he confessed, but couldn't explain why he wanted to burn down the church.

The church congregation is small, with only about 50 members. Eugene McVain and his children came to the church on Wednesday afternoon to salvage a hymnal that his family donated to the church in memory of his mother-in-law.

"I mean, (it's) got a little black to it, but (it's) not that wet," he said of the singed hymnal.

McVain and others pitched in to help clean up and close the church. The minister said they're still not sure how much it will cost to rebuild.

"We'll just keep going. We've got the other building and we'll meet in there for a while. We've got so many offers from people to use their buildings. (It's) awesome how people have been coming out," the Rev. Melissa Krabbe said.

Gwinn is charged with first-degree felony arson. He could get life in prison if he's convicted.